Contending for the Faith

If not us…then nobody
Christianity is under attack today just as it has been since the first century. Although there are Christians who say that God will protect His Word and His people, that sentiment needs to be examined. When we look in the Word, and examine history, we see that when people put their trust in God and work to protect the integrity of the Word, God takes notice and helps from heaven. But when people leave godly worship and godly lifestyles, then God honors that free will decision and leaves people to the consequences of their actions.

In light of that, it is imperative that Christians learn to contend for the Christian faith. The book of Jude tells us that.

Jude 1:3
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

What does it mean to “contend” for the faith? The Greek word gives us a little insight. It is epagonizomai (Strong’s #1864 ἐπαγωνίζομαι), and it means “to exert an intense or strenuous effort on behalf of something; to struggle for something, to fight or contend for something.” That should tell us that if we think contending for the faith is going to be easy and fun, we have the wrong idea. The spiritual war that is raging around us is real, and it takes a strenuous effort to fight on God’s behalf.

Many Christians think (or act as if they think) that the entirety of their Christian duty is to “be a good person,” and “go to church.” Those are important activities, but are they “exerting an intense effort” for the faith? One thing we can learn from this verse is that being the kind of Christian God wants us to be will require a lot of effort on our part, and may mean getting involved in things that, frankly, we would rather not be involved in. No one likes conflict, but we will not be able to openly practice our Christianity if we do not fight for the faith. Perhaps a greater lesson from Jude is this: God would not tell us to do something if He were going to do it for us. We have to contend for the faith.

Contending for the faith
There are a number of reasons why many Christians do not contend for the faith, and this short article will only touch upon a few of them. Some Christians believe that everything that happens is God’s will, so there is no need to contend for the faith. Others believe that religion should be a private matter, and not openly discussed. Still others think prayer is enough, and if we just pray, God will act. Also, it is widely believed that actions alone, without the message of Christ, are all we need to do. Finally, there are some Christians who think that God does not want His people involved in government or politics. We will examine each of these points.

God’s will is not always done
The Bible makes it clear that not everything that happens is God’s will. For example, God says He wants all people to be saved (2 Tim. 2:4), but not everyone gets saved. Also, Luke 7:30 says the religious leaders rejected what God had planned for them, which they could not have done if what God planned always came to pass. Furthermore, Jesus taught us to pray that the will of God would be done on earth like it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). He would not have needed to say that if the will of God was always being done on earth. Interestingly, the theological battle over genuine free will has heated up significantly in the last couple of decades, and there are some wonderful books available that show that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will.[1] It is no wonder, then, that the Bible says that we must fight for the Christian faith if we want God’s will to happen on earth.

Is religion a “private matter?”
Although many Christians assert that religion should be a private matter, that sentiment is not biblical or logical. There are two primary issues we must examine. Firstly, “Is Christianity a private matter?” The second is closely related: “Can any religion be a private matter?” As to whether or not Christianity should be a private matter, the Bible is very clear that Christians are to be witnesses and ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

But can any religion be a private matter? The answer is a resounding “No!” Due to its very nature, religion cannot be private. Agnostics, hedonists, and others try to disguise this fact by saying that “religion” is defined by specific creeds, liturgy, mode of worship, a specific “holy book,” etc., but Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that religion includes “a personal set…of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” Everyone has a “personal set” of beliefs by which he orders his life. There are no exceptions. So it is actually ironic that some people who are offended by Christian morals and do not want them in the workplace, or at a dinner party, or anyplace else for that matter, are quite content with “their religion” being in those places.

It is part of the arrogance and self-deception of many unbelievers that they do not want “religion” brought into the work place. Yet these people are unaware (or maybe not!) that what they talk about and do is openly flaunting their religion. A few nights ago I was channel surfing and stumbled upon a “comedian” talking about the women he was seducing. In the less-than-a-minute it took me to realize what he was talking about and “surf out,” he had openly flaunted his hedonistic and self-centered atheistic beliefs, yet no one in the audience (or the network) seemed offended by his very religious viewpoint. Sadly, they would probably assert he was not being religious at all.

Whether a person is a Christian or a non-Christian, over time his deeply held beliefs will become visible to those who know him. For example, Jesus taught us that obedience demonstrates our love for him:

John 14:23, 24 (NIV)
(23) Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.
(24) He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

The point we need to clearly understand is that religion is never private. Our “religion” is the beliefs that we hold and live by. A Christian who is “private” about his Christianity may believe certain things about the Christian faith while holding other beliefs that keep him from obeying God when it comes to being an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian acts are not enough
A parallel “big lie” to the lie that religion can be a private matter, is that if we “act Christian,” others will get the message of Christ. The famous dictum of Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary,” has been taken completely out of context by Christians who do not want to openly share their faith. This is especially ironic considering his life as an activist who openly spoke the Gospel. He aggressively evangelized in Italy, and even traveled to such places as Spain and Morocco to spread the Gospel. The friars and clergy in his day led lives of seclusion, contemplation, and study, which he opposed. He encouraged the men of the Church to leave their lives of seclusion and get out among the people and set an example, hence his quote, “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.”

In his excellent article, “You Can’t Preach the Gospel with Deeds” (Christianity Today magazine; May 2012), Duane Litfin shows that it is impossible to communicate the Gospel by actions alone. The very nature of the Christian message is such that it has to be communicated by words—we have to tell people about Jesus—and this is a huge reason that we have to contend for the faith. If we do not, the Devil will make sure we cannot openly testify to our faith.

For example, France has made evangelism illegal, and so the Devil has won a major victory in that country. We might expect laws against evangelism in China or Moslem countries, but France? We are kidding ourselves if we think that will not happen in other countries unless Christians fight hard for the faith.

A look at the world around us shows what can happen when people do not contend for the faith. In alphabetical order, we find:

  • Belarus: Belarus law bans unregistered religious activity, meetings with fewer than 20 members, and any religious activity in private homes. All religious literature is subject to censorship.
  • China: For the last five consecutive years, Christian persecution in China has increased. There are now more Christians in prison in China than in any other country.
  • Egypt: Christians are forbidden by law to repair their places of worship, so, for example, if a hole develops in a church roof, it cannot be repaired. Churches are slowly falling apart all over Egypt.
  • France: Christian evangelism is illegal (this law is now being considered for other European nations as well as France).
  • Indonesia: Recently, local governments have closed evangelical churches and imposed restrictions on church expansion.
  • North Korea: North Korea is the most anti-Christian country in the world. Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered.
  • Saudi Arabia: Religious freedom is nonexistent, and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Non-Muslim worship, even for foreign Christians, is prohibited, and no places of worship other than mosques are permitted in the country.
  • Uzbekistan: It is illegal to own a Bible or pray together.

These harsh and unreasonable laws and conditions are made and enforced by people. And there are plenty of people in the United States who would love to have laws that make the Bible, and Christian worship, illegal, which should motivate us to contend for the faith in every venue open to us.

We need more than just prayer
Some Christians think that prayer is all the spiritual warfare that we need, and if we just pray, God will do the rest. The Bible says no such thing. Many of our brothers and sisters in countries that repress Christianity are serious prayer warriors, but they know to do more than just pray, which is why they get arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and often killed. Although the Bible tells us to pray, the Christians in the Bible did more than just pray. For example, Paul pointed out sin, especially in leaders, and told us to reprove and rebuke sin just as he did. Prayer is important, but it must be backed up by actions.

Christians and politics
It is a quite common but incorrect sentiment in Christian circles that God does not want Christians getting involved in politics. Our lives are to a large extent governed by the rules and regulations of the state, and “the state” is just a group of people who think in a certain way and make the laws and regulations that govern society. Why would God not want us to be involved in making the rules by which we ourselves, and others, are governed? That would not make sense. A common response is, “Well, there is no mention of it in the New Testament.” That is not exactly true. Romans 13:4 says that people in governmental authority are “God’s servants” for good and for wrath.[2] Can it really be that God only wants unbelievers as “His servants” in government? Of course not. God wants people who are His servants in every aspect of their lives to also be His servants in government.

We have to be careful when we try to assess the will of God by what is, and what is not, in the New Testament only. When it comes to politics, for example, there were no elections in the Roman Empire, not even on the local level. People got into positions of power because of who they knew and by appointment. But just because the New Testament doesn’t mention believers being appointed to government does not mean Christians should not seek positions of influence. The New Testament admonition to “contend for the faith” means that some Christians should step into positions of influence in society.

If God speaks about a subject, we should follow that guidance unless He guides us differently. When God established the nation of Israel, it is clear He wanted godly people to step forward and serve as elders, judges, and leaders. There is no verse in the New Testament that contradicts that. When men like Mordecai and Daniel had a chance to step into leadership positions in the governments of Babylon and Persia, they did so. Mordecai is a particularly good example of the positive influence a person in government can have, because the book of Esther makes the point that he “worked for the good of his people” (Esther 10:3). That is not to say he was unfair to others, but his position allowed him to ensure that God’s interests and God’s people were provided for and protected. The protection of God’s interests in a society should be a major concern of every Christian.

Enemy without; enemy within
As much as we would like to think that “people are basically good,” the evidence in the world around us shows that if we do not fight to maintain our Christian freedom, we will not be free to worship as we wish. History confirms what the book of Romans tells us plainly: there are people who purposely hinder the truth.

Romans 1:18
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

Knowing that wicked people will suppress the truth is one thing, but how do we identify those wicked people? One thing we should know is that the enemies of Christ are both inside and outside the Church. We would expect some non-Christians to be enemies of God, but Christians? Yes, sadly. Of course the fact that there are wicked people inside the household of God goes back long before New Testament times. Korah and his followers withstood Moses (Num. 16). At the time of Christ, the men guarding Jesus’ tomb told the religious leaders what had happened, but the leaders did not honestly admit that God had, in fact, raised Christ from the dead. Instead they bribed the guards and told them to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Matt. 28:13). And these were the top leaders in Israel at the time!

There are many verses in the New Testament that speak of wolves in sheep’s clothing, or Christians who try to pervert the truth. Paul writes of people in the Church who are “false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13). So how do we identify these evil or deceived Christians? Most importantly, we have to know the Bible for ourselves. We cannot identify a counterfeit twenty dollar bill unless we know what a “real” one looks like, and we cannot identify counterfeit religion unless we know the truth about God. Christians must get to know the Bible.

Furthermore, we must not be fooled by what people say. Evil people are very convincing liars (often because they believe the lies themselves), and they will say whatever they have to in order to defend their beliefs and/or move their agenda forward. Jesus was surrounded by hypocrites and liars, and he told his disciples, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16 ESV). The Bible tells us, “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21).[3]

When we find bad fruit, we have to deal with it according to the kind of fruit it is and the kind of person who is propounding it. Some evil we avoid or run away from (1 Cor. 6:18; 1 Tim. 4:7; 6:11, 20; 2 Tim. 2:16, 22; 3:1-4). Some evil we confront by teaching (2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 1:9), while more entrenched evil and evil in leaders we more intensely confront (1 Tim. 5:20; Titus 1:13). If a person continues to be divisive, we are to have nothing to do with them, and certainly should not give them a voice in what we are doing (Titus 3:10). The evil some people do is so destructive that we have to expel them from our congregations (1 Cor. 5:4-7, 13; 1 Tim. 1:20).

The admonitions about how to deal with evil are not just for evil in the Church. They are applicable to any organization and to government as well.

Proverbs 25:5
Remove the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.

A part of fighting for the faith is recognizing wickedness, and removing it from our lives, from our churches, and from our government.

What is wickedness?
Some wickedness is so blatant that any reasonable person, especially one who reads the Bible regularly, can recognize it easily. However, the vast majority of evil is not blatant, and often it comes down to a matter of recognizing evil by comparing it to “good,” which is God and the things of God. Probably the most common problem in discerning what is evil and what to do about it is understanding that the Devil is a master of blending evil together with good. The religious leaders at the time of Christ are a good example. No doubt in many ways they were friendly and helpful, and “pillars of the community.” But when it came to the truth Jesus was teaching, they were violently opposed to it. Similarly, our society is full of “good” people, who are very friendly and helpful until we try to teach the Gospel or inculcate its values into everyday life; then their opposition to Christ comes at us hard and fast.

In the final analysis, getting saved and obeying God are the only things that really matter in life. Having a “good life” without salvation is like having a stateroom on the Titanic: the ride may be nice for a while, but in the end you are dead. Similarly, a “nice” person who stands against Christianity is like the person on the Titanic who, “nicely” reminds you the ship is “unsinkable,” and “nicely” talks you out of getting into a lifeboat and escorts you to the upper deck bar instead. By the time you realize the “friendly” advice was deadly, it is too late.

Concerning Jewish history, Rowland Bainton correctly observed, “The greatest seduction for the Jews…is not the hostility, but the friendliness, of the neighbors.”[4] There are many friendly and helpful people who oppose the ways of God. We must not be fooled by the mixing of good and evil. Evil is evil, and as Christians we need to be able to recognize it, and we must stand against it.

The call to arms
The Devil is aggressively and relentlessly moving against the things of God, and he will fight on every front, and take any little victory he can. He will use any method, legal or illegal, moral or immoral, to gain an advantage. The saying often attributed to Edmond Burke is certainly true: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” Christians must contend for the faith. We must contend for it in our homes, in our places of work, in our Churches, and in our government. The more Christ-centered a country is, the easier it is make our voices heard and we must; or, just like in France and many other countries, we will lose that legal right.

Endnotes

[1] A few good ones are: Dave Hunt, What Love is This? (The Berean Call, Bend, OR, 2006); Roger Olson, Against Calvinism (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2011); Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, Why I am Not a Calvinist (IVP Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2004).
[2] Romans 13:4 is not saying that all governments, or all government officials, are His servants. The principle God is setting forth is that governments are necessary for social order, and God supports that. Jesus Christ will rule as king in the Millennium, and will rule with a rod of iron (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).
[3] The immediate context of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 shows that it is referring to prophecy, but the principle has a much wider application.
[4] Roland Bainton, Early Christianity (Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, 1960), p. 11.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you for the insight. While in prayer last night I heard ‘contend for your faith’ and wanted to search that out further this morning.

    This was time well spent reading and I am encouraged empowered and informed as I continue this journey.

    Be encouraged and continue to run your race well.

  2. Thank you. I am so tired of hearing “preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” Jesus told His disciples “if you don’t praise Me these rocks will.” With God’s help. I do this. I tell people “ain’t no rock getting over on me.” We have too much to be thankful for.

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